Market-Based Policy with Clear Economic Benefits

Oregon has an opportunity to demonstrate what climate leadership looks like

With regional wildfires stoked by a warmer, drier climate, Oregonians are getting a taste of what climate change means. It is not tomorrow’s issue; its one we must deal with today. 

Fortunately in 2019, Oregon will have the opportunity to demonstrate what leadership looks like when the Legislature considers the Clean Energy Jobs bill, a policy that would cap and price pollution from the state’s top emitters and invest proceeds toward Oregon priorities.

For Oregon to meaningfully reduce its emissions will require environmental leadership, but the good news is that it won’t require a leap of faith. There is already ample evidence to demonstrate that Clean Energy Jobs can deliver tremendous benefits to Oregonians.

Over the last decade, 10 states have adopted market-based carbon policies to limit and price pollution. Those states are using the proceeds from these markets to drive billions in investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, affordable and sustainable housing and other state priorities. These states are experiencing economic growth even as they cap and reduce their pollution. 

For instance, a regional greenhouse gas initiative in nine northeastern states has generated $4.3 billion in economic value. These states are proving that embracing clean energy is compatible with strong economic growth. That’s why New Jersey announced in January that it would be joining the initiative, and the Virginia governor has proposed legislation to allow his commonwealth to join as well.

In California, where a more ambitious program has put a price on carbon pollution from a larger set of sources, including the transportation sector, the state is enjoying leading economic growth and innovation as they foster a cleaner environment. The program has resulted in nearly $6.1 billion in greenhouse gas reduction projects across the state, from renewable energy, to public transportation and affordable housing. At least 35 percent of investments in projects are made in disadvantaged and low-income communities.

The most important economies in the world are working to disconnect economic growth from pollution. They’re finding that making large polluters pay for their pollution and using that money for needed investments results in what was once thought to be an impossible win-win — economic growth with declining pollution. 

Clean Energy Jobs can be a powerful force in unleashing business innovation in our state. It can strengthen rural and economically distressed communities in need of support, create good jobs that can’t be outsourced, and help the state lead in the clean energy economy. 

According to the group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), 48,000 Oregonians are working right now in the clean economy — in transportation, clean energy, construction, design, engineering, sales and more. These jobs offer a glimpse of what a clean energy economy can promise.

I’ve worked on energy policy for more than 20 years. It’s easy to predict what those who oppose this bill will say to shake Oregonians’ confidence — skyrocketing gasoline prices, unbearable electricity bills and economic ruin. These arguments are used time and again because they are effective at raising uncertainty and scaring the public and policymakers away from climate action. 

But the truth is that states who have worked to limit and cut pollution are not experiencing economic ruin. Instead they are experiencing above average economic growth. 

Here are the facts: Every state and province with cap-and-invest named above has a growing economy, stable or falling energy prices and falling emissions, and they’ve added thousands of new, good-paying jobs that won’t be outsourced. All the doom and gloom in the world can’t erase facts. 

More than 519,000 Californians now work in clean energy industries — job growth that is driven by California’s climate policies. On the East Coast, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has created 45,000 job-years of work across the region since the program’s launch (a job-year equals one year’s worth of full-time employment for one person). Between 2008 and 2016, economic growth in RGGI states outpaced non-RGGI states by 4.3 percent, even as RGGI states cut power plant carbon pollution faster than the rest of the nation.

This is an important opportunity for Oregon. The concept of Clean Energy Jobs is an idea first brought up by the Oregon Legislature 10 years ago. The state has deliberated the policy ever since. Meanwhile 10 other states went ahead with their programs and have demonstrated that it is an effective and economically feasible solution. 

Now is the time to push back against the faulty narrative that clean energy is bad for the economy and enact a strong climate policy. Oregon can secure its own vibrant future by passing Clean Energy Jobs in 2019. 

Greg Dotson is a 1995 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law, where he is an assistant professor of law. He is a faculty member of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center and teaches Climate Change Law and Policy.

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